The U.S. Drought Monitor this week delivered positive news for Plains farmers badly in need of a boost. The week's active weather pattern – including two separate storm systems, one in the Midwest and one in the South – aided dry soils, while another larger system followed closely behind offering more rain.
Areas of D2-D4 conditions retreated in Texas, Oklahoma and Nebraska, in some areas providing a one-category improvement. Farther north, Kansas was left out of heavy rains, but did see some precipitation.
In Nebraska, arguably the most affected by long-term drought conditions in the High Plains, state climatologist Al Dutcher says all moisture sites have hit 25% for the 4-foot layer, and 20% for the top five feet.
With April 9 rains factored in, the drought monitor reports, 12-month deficits stood at 10.59 inches at North Platte, 16.59 inches at Broken Bow, and 6.55 inches at Imperial.
South Dakota and Montana also turned in promising rainfall totals – for the hard-hit areas at least – between 0.5 and 1.5 inches.
According to the Crop Progress Report from USDA April 8, winter wheat conditions are relatively neutral, but some signs of improvement are appearing. About 30% of the crop is still rated poor to very poor as it was last week, but 31% is now rated "good" versus 29% the week before.
Unfortunately, Texas A&M University Extension Agronomist Travis Miller says Texas wheat isn't recovering well from cold snaps suffered over the past few weeks.
"We have some freeze injury out there, pretty broad scale. Much of the High Plains missed the bullet, though I did hear a few fields in the Southern High Plains reported injury," Miller said in a USDA interview.
But, he noted, "It's really hard to say whether it's dead from drought or dead from freeze."
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Into the Midwest, light to moderate precipitation with some heavier rains blanked the area. National Weather Service frost tubes showed that the last of the frozen soils in northern and central Iowa have thawed and some farm tiles were running in eastern Iowa and northern Illinois. This indicates more subsoil moisture than previously thought, David Miskus of NOAA/NWS said.
Though portions of Minnesota and Wisconsin are still receiving snow, some soils are beginning to thaw. The drought monitor reports that soils will be reassessed next week to determine infiltration amounts.
In the lower Mississippi Valley, heavy rain fell, easing drought conditions. Wet patterns continue across Georgia, aiding the removal of lingering long-term drought. Rain was welcomed in Florida as well, but USGS stream flows remained below the tenth percentile in north-central Florida, Miskus said.
From April 11-15, more wet weather is expected across the Eastern U.S., with the South and lower Great Lakes region receiving a brunt of the rainfall. Above normal precipitation is also expected from April 16-20 for the Eastern U.S., while drier weather will appear in the West, Southwest and Florida.
View the full UNL Drought Monitor report.